When she's in law school, no prospective attorney pictures herself five or ten years down the road “fixing” parking tickets or representing clients for simple assault. More likely, her imagination has been fueled by John Grisham novels and hour-long TV dramas in which glamorous lawyers handle glamorous cases on behalf of high-paying clients. So why do so many lawyers settle for a career filled with humdrum, minor-league cases and clients?
Little Cases Almost Never Lead to Big Cases
If you ask a lawyer why he contents himself with “small” cases, he'll probably tell you that a) these cases are easy, and b) if he successfully represents a client in a small case, he'll be rewarded with a big case further on down the road. There's no arguing with point (a), but there are plenty of problems with point (b), such as:
- People hire lawyers based on their experience and skill. Sure, you may have collected damages in that fender-bender case, but why does that entitle you to represent that same client in his divorce action? People don't ask their podiatrists to perform open-heart surgery!
- If you spend your time on small cases, you're not developing the expertise and “clout” necessary to handle big cases. Why should a client hire you for his murder trial if you've spent your entire career on minor personal-injury cases?
- Handling small cases can be a very comfortable—that is, unchallenging—way to pursue a career as a lawyer. If this is what you really want out of life, more power to you. But one day you may wake up and realize how deep a rut you've dug for yourself!
There is nothing wrong with taking on small cases for low-paying clients, especially if you're a newly minted law school graduate and literally have no other way of making a living. But if, after a few years in practice, you're still spending most of your day on speeding tickets and littering, that may be a signal that you need to rework both your self-image and your marketing strategy.